Sunday, January 31, 2010

Little Drops of Love: Sugar Cookies

When my husband and I began dating, we lived six hours apart. Since we didn’t get much time for face-to-face conversations, we had to find creative ways to communicate. This, of course, included long telephone calls and e-mails, but we also took advantage of the U.S. Postal Service. I have a box full of old letters, decorated envelopes and pictures sent during the year and a half we were apart. My favorite one is a picture of Ryan standing with his arms spread out in a field in Ireland with a note promising to take me there someday – I’m holding you to that Ryan!

Once I moved to Minnesota, and especially once we got married and lived under the same roof, the notes stopped. Unless we are letting the other know if Murphy has been fed or that the dishes in the dishwasher are clean, our handwritten correspondence has pretty much come to an end. But recently, I decided to resurrect this dying art form.

It has been a rough few weeks for Ryan. Between layoffs at his company and his beloved Green Bay Packers blowing another chance at going to the Super Bowl, he’s been a little down. So I decided to pack a little treat into his lunch to help cheer him up. His lunches typically consist of a sandwich and bags of fruits and veggies (I thought after living with him for this long some of his healthy eating habits would wear off on me…not so much). This menu definitely needed some sweetening up so I consulted the recipe box and found just the thing: Sugar Cookies.

I love this recipe. These aren’t typical sugar cookies. Instead of being a dense, heavy cookie, these are light and airy and have a hint of shortbread in them. I bagged up a few, attached a little note wishing him a sweet day from Murphy and me, and tucked them into his lunch tote before he left for work. The next morning, Murphy and I had a note waiting for us on the kitchen table thanking us for the cookies. It was a great way to start the day. 

It seems these days that communication is shifting more towards Facebook posts and text messages. But there is just something so much more personal and thoughtful about a handwritten note. Maybe being a writer I have more of a vested interest in the art – I keep journals that I write in everyday. But I also send handwritten cards for birthdays and to say thank you. Everyone loves to get mail and it makes me happy to see the distinct marks of my loved ones’ handwriting when they signed the card. It’s as if they packed a little piece of themselves in the envelope and sent it as part of the greeting.

So this year for Valentine’s Day, I challenge all of you to make a treat for a loved one and include a handwritten note. And if you prefer chocolate over sugar cookies, I highly recommend the caramel bars. Each decadent bite is sure to leave a smile on their face and a sweet thought of you in their mind.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

In Honor of Clementine Paddleford: Joe Froggers (part 2)

I apologize for the long delay in posting the conclusion to this recipe, but the inspiration I got from the clipping has had me immersed in research about the woman whose name appears on the bottom: Clementine Paddleford. She is truly a remarkable woman, a legend in food journalism and I want to try to do her justice in this post. This is a long post and I don’t have any pictures to include, but bear with me, I promise that Clementine’s story is worth the read.

Paddleford is credited with changing the way America wrote about food. Before her, there were no articles to accompany recipes in newspapers; it was just a list of ingredients and instructions. Today, that might be hard to conceive of because we are surrounded by The Food Network and people, such as Anthony Bourdain, who bring us cooking stories from exotic places across the globe. But Paddleford was truly a pioneer in this type of food reporting. She connected with her readers in a remarkable way and at the time of her death in 1967, it was estimated that she had 12 million readers.

Clementine Paddleford was born in Stockdale, Kansas on September 27, 1898. Her childhood in the farming country of the Midwest would be the catalyst for the incredible bond she had with the women of America. Her interest in writing began at an early age and when she attended Kansas State Agricultural College, she pursued a degree in Industrial Journalism. This was very uncommon for women during this time, most received their degree in Home Economics.

Paddleford’s writing career led her to New York, Chicago and eventually back to New York. She wrote for such publications as Farm and Fireside, the Christian Herald, and Gourmet magazine but it was her position at the New York Herald Tribune and This Week magazine where she published her weekly article entitled How America Eats that would truly secure her place in the world of food journalism.

Paddleford didn’t just write about the food she ate, she dug into the history of the recipe, met with the people who cooked it, and traveled worldwide in search of stories that would resonate with her readers. She estimated that during her career, she traveled more than 800,000 miles in search of stories about food. She traveled to Maine to learn about lobster and discover ingenious new ways the locals were serving the crustacean. In California, she immersed herself in wine country and met a family who was just getting started in the wine business: the Mondovi family (sound familiar?). She even boarded the atomic submarine, Shipjack, to learn about its kitchen and report on the meals being served all while traveling the depths of the Long Island Sound. But her favorite place to travel to was the Midwest where she had roots.

The world changed a lot during Paddleford’s lifetime, especially in relation to food. Her career began during the Great Depression and World War II, which she responded to with articles about making the best meal from what you have. Later on, women’s role in the kitchen began to change. They were finding jobs outside of the home and were now spending minutes on meal preparation instead of hours. Paddleford published quick tricks for dinners and helped women find ways to save time making meals. Toward the end of her career, Americans began to worry about weight issues and again Paddleford met these concerns with recipes that were leaner in calories, but not in taste.

Paddleford had an indomitable spirit and possessed unstoppable motivation. At the young age of 34 she developed a malignant tumor on her larynx, which was removed along with her vocal chords leaving her to relearn how to speak through a breathing tube in her throat. But that didn’t slow her down. She disguised the tube with a velvet choker that became part of her trademarked look and continued with her work. The surgery transformed her voice into a raspy, hoarse whisper and, as a result, she declined any public speaking opportunities after her recovery.

In 1960, she published a cookbook that bore the same name as her column: How America Eats. It contained reprints of the articles she wrote and was divided not by recipe type, but by region of the country from which she discovered each recipe. In it, is a copy of the recipe and article Clementine Paddleford wrote for Joe Froggers. I also traced a copy of the article back to the May 2, 1954 issue of the LA Times through their archives. I’d love to post a copy of the full article for you to read, but unfortunately copyright laws restrict me from doing this. If you would like to see the original article, click here to go to the archives and search for Clementine Paddleford’s article titled “Spice Wheels” that appeared on the aforementioned date. The cost to download a copy is $3.95. Or you can view the article on page 24 of Paddleford’s cookbook, How America Eats.

Through my research, I discovered I had a lot in common with Clementine Paddleford. She loved to travel, was a poet and an avid keeper of scrapbooks. She was very close with her mother and also married an engineer (however, they never lived together and eventually got divorced). But I think what I related to the most was the purpose for her writing. She wasn’t a chef, in fact, she rarely even cooked. What fascinated her were the traditions and memories baked into every dish she ate across the globe. Every recipe has a story and Clementine Paddleford made it her life’s mission to discover as many as she possibly could. In fact, she even got her pilot’s license to aid in this quest.

Clementine Paddleford died on November 13, 1967. She had several bouts of pneumonia and it was believed her body was taken over by cancer at the time of her death. In her will, she bequeathed all of her work to her alma matter, Kansas State University. In total, 274 standard-size file boxes were transported to Manhattan, Kansas where, sadly, they sat virtually untouched for 34 years.

But in 2002, two women began their own quest: to resurrect the memory of the woman who Time magazine named America’s “best-known food editor” in 1953. Kelly Alexander, then a food writer for Saveur magazine, and Cynthia Harris, an archivist at Kansas State University, teamed up to write an article about Paddleford for the November 2002 issue of Saveur (click here to view a copy of the article). But it didn’t stop there. They went on to write a book titled Hometown Appetites: The Story of Clementine Paddleford, the Forgotten Food Writer Who Chronicled How America Ate. In addition to being a complete biography of her life, the book contains wonderful photographs of Paddleford, quotes from her articles and many of the recipes she dedicated her life to discovering. I immediately located a copy of the book and devoured it in a few short days. I have even talked my husband into planning a trip to Kansas to visit her archives.

It saddened me to see the word “forgotten” in the title of her biography. Just like my discovery of Lucretia Brown, I found it fitting that I was introduced to this inspiring woman with a voracious appetite for life on my journey through the Found Recipe Box. I wish it contained more of her clippings. But just having this one was enough to whet my appetite and encourage me to continue my pursuit to learn more about her life.

A lot has changed since Paddleford’s death in 1967. You can’t scroll through the television listings without seeing at least one type of show about cooking – from Iron Chef to Man vs. Food, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations to Hell’s Kitchen. America is obsessed with food. But how many of us spend the time to actually learn the history of the food we eat or even take the time to make an heirloom recipe? We’re too busy. We’re a nation of fast food. Unless it’s a special occasion or a holiday, most people find food that can be popped in the microwave or put together in a matter of minutes. I am guilty of this too. Until I lost my job, I never had the time to construct a fancy meal for dinner, let alone take on a project of cooking an entire recipe box full of made-from-scratch recipes and writing about them. For this experience, I guess I’m thankful to be unemployed. Everything happens for a reason. And without this project, I never would have been introduced to Clementine Paddleford.

I’d like to thank Clementine, for opening the door to a whole new way of writing about food and reminding us that there is a story behind every bite we take. For traveling hundreds of thousands of miles in search of the stories that shaped people’s lives and what they served on their dinner tables. Clementine, you are not forgotten. In fact, I will always hold a special place for you in my heart and maybe, someday, we’ll be seated together at the great Dinner Table in the Sky where we can swap stories about our favorite hometown dishes.

If you would like to learn more about Clementine Paddleford, here is a list of resources:

Hometown Appetites: The Story of Clementine Paddleford, the Forgotten Food Writer Who Chronicled How America Ate By Kelly Alexander and Cynthia Harris

Hometown Appetites – 2002 article in Saveur magazine

Clementine’s Cookbooks:
How America Eats
Cook Young Cookbook
The Best In American Cooking

The Clementine Paddleford Papers – Kansas State University Library: University Archives & Manuscripts

Sunday, January 24, 2010

In Honor of Lucretia Brown: Joe Froggers (part 1)


Every recipe has a history. This one is not only fascinating, but led me to the discovery of two amazing women. When I first came across Joe Froggers in the box, I had no idea what they were. So I conducted a little internet research. What I found left me wanting to buy two plane tickets: one to Marblehead, Massachusetts to visit the birthplace of this cookie and pay homage to its creator; and the second to Manhattan, Kansas to visit Kansas State University, which houses the archives of a woman who changed the way America wrote about food.

Throughout my research, I found several variations of the Joe Frogger story. From what put together, I believe this to be the most accurate version. The first batch of Joe Froggers came out of the oven in the late 1700s. They were the invention of a woman named Lucretia Brown, or “Aunty ‘Crese”. She named the cookie partly for her husband, Joe Brown, or “Black Joe,” and partly for the frogs that inhabited the pond behind their home on top of Gingerbread Hill in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Perhaps their home was also an inspiration for the cookies because they are very similar to a gingerbread cookie.

Black Joe was a former slave who served in the Revolutionary War and, after the slaves were freed, bought property in Marblehead where he established his home and eventually opened a tavern. Joe and Lucretia were well known for the raucous parties that occurred at Black Joe’s Tavern. The constant thunder of heels clapping floorboards as guests danced the jig while Joe played the fiddle was typical at the tavern no matter what time of year, as was the copious consumption of alcohol.

Lucretia’s Joe Froggers became a legend of their own in the area. These cookies were called the “never-stale cookie” and for this reason were popular on sea voyages and fishing trips. I never had a chance to test this theory because the cookies were so popular at the cookie exchange and at family gatherings where they made an appearance that there were never any leftovers. Please note: if you do try this recipe, it makes A LOT of cookies and requires a pretty strong mixer. I imagine that Lucretia had amazing arm muscles from stirring batch after batch of this extremely viscous batter. It nearly broke my little hand mixer! 

Black Joe’s Tavern still stands in Marblehead. In fact, Joe’s fiddle still hangs on the wall. He has a large headstone at his resting place on Gingerbread Hill. The town has honored him several times and if you search his name on the internet, thousands of pages come up.

Lucretia, however, is another story. Her grave is unknown and the internet barely mentions her name. But she does make an appearance in Anya Seyton’s book The Hearth and the Eagle. I felt a connection between Lucretia and the Found Recipe Box – both were the bearers of heartfelt kitchen creations, but after their time had passed; they were left to fade away like a love note scratched in the sand before high tide. I found it fitting that I discovered Lucretia during my journey through the Found Recipe Box and am happy to be able to honor her memory on this blog. She may have slipped off the history pages during her own lifetime, but it’s a privilege to etch a place for her in mine. I think everyone dreams of doing something with their life that will be remembered after their passing and I’m sure she would love to know that her cookies are still being made with her in mind. Someday I’ll make a stop in Marblehead to properly honor Lucretia. Since her gravesite is unknown, I’ll place a Joe Frogger outside her kitchen window where it will always remain fresh and flavorful, just like my memory of an inspirational woman I never met.

If you would like to read more about Joe Froggers, Lucretia Brown and Black Joe, here are some great articles that I came across during my research:

Marblehead Magazine

I actually started writing this post awhile ago, but felt like something was missing. It just didn’t feel finished. For inspiration, I held the yellowed paper of the recipe in my hands and noticed something I had overlooked before. I did some more research and was introduced to yet another truly remarkable woman. She deserves much more than a simple name drop though; she deserves a post of her own. So please check back to learn about the woman who Time magazine named America’s “best-known food editor” in 1953.

To be continued…

Friday, January 22, 2010

Regaining Rhythm: Lady Baltimore Cake


I have discovered that there is an upside to being unemployed: when a friend calls and invites you to go horseback riding on a Wednesday afternoon, you can say “yes.” There is nothing sweeter than spending the afternoon with a good friend and equine companions. Despite the cold temperature and the threat of freezing rain (which, luckily, never made it far enough north to effect us) my friend Muffy and I bundled up and headed out to the barn. I haven’t been on a horse since August so this was a particularly sweet treat for me.

One of the things I love about Minneapolis is that you don’t have to drive too far outside of the city to see wide-open spaces. Within half an hour, we were in the company of snow-covered fields and horse farms. Once we had saddled up the horses and stretched their legs a bit, we got on and hit the trails. Immediately, I noticed how quiet it was. When the ground is covered in a thick blanket of snow, it seems to absorb all the sound and leave the world in a still silence. Since I live less than 10 minutes away from the Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport and listen to the constant drone of airplane engines all day, I reveled in the quiet.

The trails were beautiful. Fields of golden prairie grasses stood tall and stayed perfectly straight as the breeze blew them into each other. It was as if winter had frozen them, too, and they were just as eager as the rest of us for spring to return and bring with it their flexibility and freedom from the cold. The bare trees looked like ink blown across a page of blue paper, sharp and straight with appendages jutting in every direction. And beneath me, I felt the power and apprehension of my horse, Scooter, as he trudged through the crusty snow, all the while looking back in the direction of the barn and the big bale of hay he left behind.

Sometimes, the things we want most in life can also scare the crap out of us. And sometimes, that fear can turn into the most rewarding feeling we’ve ever had.  I daydream all the time about owning my own horse, riding on a beach, feeling the wind blow against my face as we run through the waves. But in reality, my experience with horses has been very limited. I took riding lessons when I was a kid and I rode with my aunt when she owned horses. But since then, I have only had a handful of chances to be back in the saddle. And even then, it was usually for a trail ride or an occasion where we did little more than walk. I haven’t been on a horse that has moved faster than the pace of a trot since I was about 10 years old. When we get older, we lose a bit of that daredevil spirit we have as kids. And especially since I had my back injury, I am overly cautious about avoiding situations that can cause bodily harm. The last time I was on a horse in August, he stumbled and fell. And I fell with him. Luckily, neither of us was injured, but it was an experience I could have gone without having.

Needless to say, that memory was at the front of my mind as I rode across icy winter trails. As we turned to go back towards the barn, there was a hill we had to climb. Muffy warned me that the horses would need to run up the hill. I nodded, took a deep breath and tried to prepare myself. Only, my horse was ready before I was and took off before I had a chance to exhale. One foot dropped out of the stirrup, I fell forward into the horn on the saddle and found myself staring at the ground. For a moment, I thought I was going to fall. I flashed back to that day in August. My brain considered that snow-packed ground might feel better to fall into than the summer dirt, but concluded that not falling at all would feel even better. There wasn’t much I could do about my foot, so I grabbed the horn, tried to regain balance and held on until we were at the top of the hill. I certainly wasn’t going to win any style points, but I achieved my goal of not colliding with the ice.  Muffy asked if I was O.K, and I said, “Yes, I just wasn’t ready.”

When we got back to the barn, Muffy helped to prepare me for the next time. We went into a round pen where we worked on form, trotting and cantering. Honestly, I was scared. I felt my heart start to pound in my chest when she asked if I was ready to canter. She went through the commands, told me to get Scooter’s attention and, when I was ready, told me to go. Easy enough, right? With a quick kick and a command to canter, we were off. And it was amazing. I felt my body fall into synch with his and it was as if we were floating as one across the frozen ground. The up and down bob of his gait was smooth and flawless. I realized I wasn’t scared anymore; I was in a state of complete euphoria. I was doing it! It might not have been on a beach and there weren’t any waves, but I was cantering on a horse and at that moment, it felt like a dream come true.

My horoscope for this month told me that a friend was going to help me in a way I never imagined possible. As Muffy and I drove away from the farm that afternoon, I knew it was true. She wouldn’t give up on me, even when I was on the verge of giving up on myself. She helped me conquer my fear and achieve something that I spent hours dreaming about. She helped me to regain my confidence and have an experience of pure bliss, something I haven’t felt in a really long time. And for all of that, I am eternally grateful to her. And I’m also grateful to Scooter for being so patient with me and helping me to rediscover my rhythm.

That afternoon, I learned that being ready isn’t something we just do; it’s something that requires practice. It’s the same for horseback riding, writing or cooking. If we don’t practice, we fall out of our rhythm. And when we lose our rhythm, we lose confidence. Starting any new project or activity can be terrifying. That fear can launch our brains into a mode of self destruction where we consider all the most horrendous outcomes and possible ways we might fail. It’s at those moments that we need to kick ourselves in the side and go.

I had to do that when I started this blog, when I decided to run/walk/bike to France and even when I made a Lady Baltimore Cake for a friend’s birthday. This week we celebrated a birthday in our poetry group. I told each of the members that they can choose any cake they’d like from the list of recipes in the box and I’ll make it for their birthday. My first request was for a cake that required another boiled icing. When I made my husband’s birthday cake in December, the boiled icing didn’t turn out too great and I was nervous about trying again. I made sure that I had enough ingredients to do this several times…just in case. But coming down from my horseback riding high must have given me enough of a boost to really focus and get it right this time. After only one try, I stared into a white, fluffy bowl of boiled icing.

Again, I won’t be scoring any style points for this cake, but I did it. The next time someone requests a boiled icing cake, I’ll be ready. And the next time I encounter a hill on horseback, I’ll be able to exhale before we start to climb.

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Treat for Any Season: Fruit or Berry Kuchen


The deep freeze has lifted – for now anyway. But in its wake, it left Minneapolis swaddled in a low-hanging gray haze. And the slowly melting snow has turned into a charcoal-colored soup sprinkled with road garbage. Lovely. Winter can be beautiful though. The other morning fog froze to all the trees leaving them coated in fuzzy crystals. The world was a gleaming white wonderland and I wanted to pet all the branches. Some of the heartier critters have even ventured out of their winter dens for a peak at the above zero temperatures. A few squirrels tried to engage Murphy in a game of chase, but he took a pass at the invitation. He wasn’t interested in plunging his sensitive feet through the crusty snow for a game in which he never wins.

He did put on his boots for a winter walk, however. Yes, my super-tough Golden Retriever who spends every Tuesday morning barking at the garbage trucks and demanding they leave the neighborhood, requires boots in order to go for walks in the winter. His tender feet are sensitive to both cold and road salt and without them, he doesn’t make it much past the end of the driveway. He doesn’t enjoy the process of putting them on, but once all four feet are protected he prances like a Tennessee Walking Horse and kicks it into turbo for the entire walk. As long as he’s moving, he’s a happy dog.

Sometimes we need a little help during the winter months to put that spring back into our step. For Murphy, that means slipping his feet into dog boots. For the rest of us, it might mean adding a little color to our overbearingly gray surroundings. And I have discovered just the cure for the winter doldrums:  Fruit or Berry Kuchen. This is very similar to the Apple Kuchen I made a couple of months ago, but for this variation I used strawberries and blueberries instead of apples. Both are out of season so they were a little pricey, but totally worth it. Just one bite of this delicious dessert and I could practically feel the summer sun beating down on my skin. When I opened my eyes, I realized it was just Murphy’s hot breath, but it was nice to dream for a moment. It was so good in fact, that we had to make it twice – once to celebrate the New Year and the long-awaited arrival of our new nephew with Ryan’s family, and a second time just to enjoy eating a fresh fruit dessert in the middle of winter. If you are yearning for the return of long summer days with a breeze that doesn’t freeze your nose together when you inhale, make this Berry Kuchen. It will cost a few extra dollars for the fresh fruit, but when you are instantly transported to your happy place on the first bite, you’ll be happy you splurged on this treat for yourself.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Running to Tourettes Sur Loup, France

This project has been great for me. It has given me something to focus on other than the stress of trying to find work, provides a routine for my day, offers an opportunity to learn new things, and most importantly, it has me writing almost every day. The bad thing about this project: it hasn’t been good for my waistline.

So I decided I needed a goal to help get me back in shape and to curb some of the side effects of cooking recipes from a box that is made up of 60% desserts. And since I found such great inspiration from a recipe box that was discovered at an antique show, I decided to turn to another item I picked up about year ago at an antique store.

One of my favorite places to go in the Twin Cities is a little antique store called Hunt & Gather in South Minneapolis. I have found some great treasures there. In addition to being a writer I also enjoy art projects, especially visual journaling. Antique stores have tons of great papers and trinkets that can be used in a variety of art projects. On one treasure hunting excursion to Hunt & Gather, I found this picture of Tourettes Sur Loup in southern France:

It, like the recipe box, haunted me. There was something I was meant to do with it, but for the past year it has been sitting on my art project table just staring at me. One of my dreams is to travel to Europe. I want to wander through the lands that once gave William Shakespeare his inspiration. I want to spend days staring at priceless works of art in the Louvre. I want to drink a pint of Guinness in Ireland with my husband (even though I can’t stand the stuff, he swears there’s nothing better). I finally got a passport, but then I lost my job and my husband’s company had layoffs so we put our lives on hold. But I still stare at this picture and dream of what those ancient rocks would feel like beneath my fingers.

I Googled the name at the bottom of the print and actually found a photograph online that was taken at nearly the exact same spot as this one. It was fun to see it in color and made me want to be there even more. And then it clicked – I would run to Tourettes Sur Loup, France. Well, not literally. I found a site that calculated the distance in miles between Minneapolis, MN and Nice, France (it is just outside of Tourettes Sur Loup): 4,622 miles. I’m not sure how accurate the mileage is because it used the path an airplane would take, but it’s close enough.

I used to be an avid runner. Before I moved to Minneapolis I ran 6 miles a day 3-4 times a week. When I moved, I fell out of my routine and then suffered a back injury that made me inactive for a couple of years. Even once I was able to move around again, I was so terrified of re-injuring myself that I erred on the side of caution and stayed inactive. A physical therapist once told me that I’d never run again. It was one of the most depressing days of my life. Recently I tried running, just short distances to test my back’s durability. Ironically, I felt better than I have in years. Since my back injury, I have not been able to lay flat on my back. Once I started running again, I was able to actually sleep on my back for hours at a time. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to run the way I used to, but just to be able to run one mile feels pretty damn good.

I broke down the mileage of the journey from Minneapolis to Nice and it equals about 13 miles every day for 1 year. That’s not going to happen. I wanted to give myself a chance to actually finish this so I’ve decided that running, walking and biking miles will all count towards my goal. I’ll put a counter on the side of my blog so you can watch the mileage add up. I figure I have a better chance of actually sticking to this if I know someone else is tracking my mileage too.

I hope that by the time I reach this goal, I’ll actually be able to travel to Europe. I’d like to go to Sweden and try real Swedish pancakes. There’s a recipe in the box for a German cookie called a Springerle, which requires a special rolling pin etched in decorations. I’ve been looking for them online, but wouldn’t it be fun to get one from Germany, maybe from someone who could share a story about a Springerle tradition in their family? Hopefully someday the Found Recipe Box will have a chance to go global, but for now I have a wooden box and a picture of a small town in southern France to help me stay focused on my goals and give me something to look forward to.

I’ve been through a lot over the past few years and somehow I came through to the other side not completely recognizing the person I’d become. There are two activities, however, that always bring me back to myself: writing and running. And this amazing little box has brought them both back into my life. It’s sad when we abandon the things we love most during difficult times. One of my favorite inspiring quotes is from the movie Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium: “Your life is an occasion. Rise to it.” I have taped this quote to the front of the Found Recipe Box as a reminder to never abandon the things that make me “me.” Lately I have felt like Molly Mahoney from Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium when she was given the block of wood and told to find the magic in it. It’s not the wood we both ended up finding the magic in, it was within ourselves. It’s always there inside of us; sometimes we just need something – like a block of wood – to remind us to look for it.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Resolution Busters: Never Fail Fudge & Scotch Shortbread


Happy New Year everyone!

It’s cold in Minnesota. Last week we reached an air temperature of -20 with wind chills of about -40 in parts of the state. It’s so cold that Murphy barely has time to get off the deck to go to the bathroom before his feet freeze and he needs to be rescued from the backyard. For a dog that loves to just go outside, sit on the deck, and watch the world go by this is not a good time of year. It’s the kind of weather that makes you want to put on sweats and curl up on the couch with a heavy blanket and a good book or a movie.

This is also the time of year that health clubs are packed with people who made it their New Year’s resolution to finally get in shape and lose weight. Binging on things such as fudge and cookies during the holidays give us strength to brave the cold and wait in line for a treadmill so that we can plug away at our resolution. But how long does that last before we realize it’s so much warmer at home in front of the TV and we end up abandoning our resolution all together? And chances are there will still be some lingering holiday goodies at home to snack on while watching other people exercise on The Biggest Loser. But not at my house! The holiday season was a great excuse to try a bunch of the recipes from the box and give them away as gifts.

Two of those recipes were Never Fail Fudge and Scotch Shortbread. I love that the fudge is called “never fail” because it’s so true – chocolate never lets us down (well, unless we’re trying really hard to keep those resolutions, but just can’t stop from having a second piece…or third…or fourth…). I’ve never made fudge before and, aside from having to run to the store in the middle of the process for more ingredients because I didn’t have as much as I thought, this was pretty easy to make. I don’t recommend keeping these ingredients in the house, because the recipe is so easy that it would be really tempting to make another batch when you’re suffering from chocolate deprivation.

The wonderful thing about chocolate is that it goes with everything, especially shortbread. I made the Scotch Shortbread recipe for a cookie exchange with some friends before the holidays. We all made our dough the night before and then met at a friend’s house to bake the cookies, eat snacks, drink mimosas and socialize. And, of course, we had to taste all the cookies as they came out of the oven. We had a delicious selection of cookies to choose from. In addition to the Scotch Shortbread we had spritz cookies, walnut crescents, and snickerdoodles. And my friend Sara brought dipping chocolate so we dipped some of the spritz and shortbread in the chocolate, which turned great cookies into a truly divine treat. 

The cold isn’t expected to vacate the area for a while so I’m going to have to muster up the energy to join the masses at the health club despite the threat of nearly instant frostbite. I wish I could bring Murphy with me because the poor dog has a serious case of cabin fever. Every time he begs to go outside, I think he’s hoping that summer has magically appeared and he’ll be greeted by a blast of warm air when I open the door. I wish I had a shred of my dog’s optimism. Instead, I need to find other ways to motivate myself. The recent celebration of the end of one year and the beginning of a new one had me thinking seriously about life and goals. A year of unemployment not only made a serious dent in my bank account, but my self esteem and overall mood took a dramatic hit as well. So after some soul searching and more antique treasure hunting, I came up with another portion to this project. But I’ll leave you guessing about what it could be until my next post…